Sometimes when the world is loud and scary and overwhelming and I feel afraid for my children’s future, I write them letters. They may never read these letters until they are much older, but they steady my heart for now and, in a mysterious way, help me “mother myself” out of my fear and anxiety… or at least help me find my footing again.
My Dear Girls,
Sometimes I envy you. These are confusing days, but you’re buffered from the anxiety and stress and uncertainty of these times and so you mostly just feel joy, a feeling I both envy and also sometimes manage to soak up a little.
That’s the gift you give me.
You let me borrow your childhood in little bits and pieces, reminding me that this present moment — with its bright blue sky and feathery white clouds and the cool water of a swimming pool and the smell of sunscreen and the sticky sweetness of a popsicle – even the cheap kind that’s nothing more than artificially flavored and colored liquid tubes of pure refined sugar – is enough… it’s more than enough, actually. It’s overflowing with goodness.
But it’s hard to keep my eyes focused on this present moment. I think about your future and I wonder if I’m doing enough to prepare you both for a world spinning like a top; a top that gets wobbled ever-so-slightly and seems to spin off its course. Everything feels topsy-turvy right now. And loud… so very loud.
From what I can tell, all the grown-ups in the world are stressed and weary and tired and angry. Remember, my girls, that anger is often a mask for fear. And the truth is, we’re all afraid. Afraid of a virus. Afraid for our economic security. Afraid of how we’ll manage next year with juggling jobs and pandemic schooling and periodic quarantines. Afraid of each other. Afraid of the police and twitter mobs and the protests and the toppling statues and the growing vicious social phenomenon of call-outs and cancel culture. On all sides we’re biting the bait of offense and drowning in self-righteous indignation and smoldering contempt. We’re ruthlessly shaming others even while we’re afraid of being shamed. We’re burning ourselves down. And I wonder, as I watch you giggle and splash in a pool, what will be left for you?
And there I go, spinning wildly and reeling towards despair – a topsy-turvy top in an off-kilter world filled with other wildly-spinning topsy-turvy adults trying to pretend as though we’re in control. I’m so overloaded that my brain can’t find its way through the noise. I can’t think myself out of this mess. More and more, I find myself leaning into the childlike expressions of my faith; the seemingly simple and yet infinitely deep teachings of Jesus I learned in Mrs. Hupp’s Sunday school class as a little girl.
Love your neighbor as yourself echoes through my mind a lot these days. I think about it when I put on a mask I do not like to wear. I think about it when I refrain from a biting social media retort. I think about it when I tell someone I’m sorry for dismissing their perspective out of my own arrogant hard-heartedness.
Do not be afraid. Even if your dad loses his job. Even if someone we love gets sick. Even if the political institutions we know and trust undergo a cataclysmic change. Even if I can’t find toilet paper at the store. Even if school doesn’t resume in August. Even if violence breaks out on our streets. Even if… no matter what… Do not be afraid. (It is impossible, of course, to never feel afraid. But we can choose to surrender our fears to God and not savor them. And we can refuse to dehumanize those whom we fear.)
I’m sorry. I confess, both to God and to you, that we grown-ups have made a mess of things. We’ve confused our political loyalties for following Jesus. We’ve forgotten that we’re each image bearers and have instead sorted each other into categories based on lesser identities. We want to be judged by our best and yet we judge others by their worst. We do not bear with one another in love. We are stubborn and stiff-necked, refusing to lay down our lives for one another. We rarely choose to offer a gentle answer when we feel threatened. We do not lay down our weapons for fear of someone else getting the better of us or gaining the upper hand. We are afraid — angry-afraid and turning on each other.
My dear girls, sometimes I worry I’m not doing enough to prepare you for this uncertain world. But deep down I believe the only way forward is for us to go back to the beginning. Back to those simple teachings of Jesus.
And so we’re just going to keep starting at the beginning. We’re going to keep trying again — over and over and over again — to let those impossibly simple teachings come to life in our lives. We’re going to ask ourselves each and every day, with each and every decision we must make no matter the size, “What does love require of me in this moment?”
We’re going to get it wrong sometimes. (People of good faith and good intent don’t always end up on the same path, and remembering that is one way to fight back against our tendency towards arrogant over-confidence in our own dogmatic thinking, for indulging in that will give birth to scorn.) And even when we get it wrong, we’re going to say we’re sorry and pick back up where we left off and ask the question again. What does love require of me today?
And we’re going to keep asking the Holy Spirit to lead us — to nudge us in the right direction and to trust that however each day unfolds, God’s presence and his mercy and his covering will always be enough. And it will be. It’s always been enough.
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself. And the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in everything I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire and I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore, I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude
(I’m grateful to my pastor Steve for sharing this prayer with us a few weeks ago. It reflects my heart very well these days.)